One of telly’s most familiar funny chaps, Alan Davies, talks to David Dunn about his return to Sheffield next week with a one-man show for the Last Laugh Comedy Festival
ALAN Davies is the first to admit it had been so long since he’d walked on stage with nothing but a microphone some fans never even realised he used to do it for a living.
“I don’t know if they know me as a stand-up,” concurs the mild-mannered mirth merchant ahead of an overdue return to the City Hall on October 13.
“Crowds are coming along and quite a lot like QI, but QI for me is all post-stand-up. It started the year after I stopped and the last 10 years have been mainly QI.
“I actually started doing stand-up 24 years ago so some of those younger audience members weren’t even born when I was first gigging.
“Fortunately for them I’m much funnier as a live comedian than I am on QI. It would be a bit of a worry if I wasn’t.”
Plenty of us do remember Alan’s former funny life and have been asking when he might hit the tarmac.
“Sometimes people would Tweet me ‘Are you gonna tour?’ – but not that many,” laughs the man now better known as a TV star.
Since laying down his mic, Alan has decorated many a comedy panel show with his easy wit, but has also made an international name for himself as an actor, notably in the detective drama Jonathan Creek, but also in other shows such as the under-rated series Whites, in which he played a chef.
BBC hit Creek ran for 14 years – a one-off is due to be filmed in January – and was pulling 12 million viewers at its peak. If Alan seemed to take to acting rather easily, that’s because the career he was initially bound for was acting rather than comedy anyway.
“I wanted to act when I was a teenager and started doing drama, but I always wanted to do comedy as well,” he explains. “I hoped I would meet some like-minded people at university and had heard that was what happens; like Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Monty Python, you meet your comedy partner at college.
“I did meet some funny people but I wanted to do it by myself in the end. I was too impatient with other people when I was younger.
“Comedy is what I did when I started out and no-one would hire me as an actor. It’s what I go back to – my main occupation is being a comedian.
“But I found if I was doing television, Jonathan Creek say, there’s quite a lot of hours and months you’re away from stand-up and it’s hard to get back into gigs.
“Not having a show is part of what stopped me and I did fall out of love with it a bit. I’ve not been a very good writer; I’m much more a person who has a story or an idea and goes and tells it on stage. It’s in the saying it out loud it starts to become material.
“So for this I had to go to a studio theatre and do a ‘work in progress’, which I’d never done before and was absolute torment for all the people who turned up.
“The venue has a big mailing list and it’s a fiver to come into a tiny little room with a little audience and I stand there with a handful of notes going ‘Do you think this is funny?’”
You have to ask yourself, why someone as in demand on telly as Alan would want to put himself through that. Then he admits not as many great scripts have come his way since Whites and temptation called when an Aussie promoter pal prompted him to do stand-up for the first time since Edinburgh 2001.
“I never thought I would never do it again as lots of my peers and contemporaries have done a similar thing, Jack Dee and Frank Skinner. You do come back to it because there’s something about it, getting a microphone in your hand, just you and the audience, nothing in between you, no-one can cancel you after one series.
“It is very liberating and now I’m older I’ve got something to say finally. I can refer to things that happened in my childhood, difficult moments in my life and get humour from those. There’s a little bit more distance for me as a person and I’m less frivolous than I used to be.
“I’m still frivolous, though.”
Meet the family man who keeps on kidding, even if he does get a bit shouty sometimes
ONE thing that has changed dramatically since Alan Davies was last on the road is his homelife.
“We had some shopping delivered and they gave us someone else’s,” he explains, shutting his front door as he tells us about his young family.
“It was like Ready, Steady, Cook. We were trying to work out what they were going to have for their tea. My wife is going ‘I didn’t order leeks’.”
Such aspects, including the impact and antics of his 15-month-old boy and daughter aged just under three, feed into his set now.
“Generally it changes your perspective a bit but my children are paying their way and providing me with some material already.”
They also determined the nature of his touring schedule, a civilised bunch of dates with plenty of days off and a grip on geography so Alan can come home a lot.
Even so, the show is entitled Life Is Pain. “It is pain, of course. I’m less egocentric, believe it or not, than I once was. I used to think I was the only teenager who had lost a parent or didn’t get on with their dad.
“Now, of course, I’m aware everyone has a story and if you talk about it, it resonates with people. That’s the function of a comedian.
“It’s very unusual to be on stage in front of 2,000 people – that relationship is peculiar in the rational mind – but the person on stage is talking about the lives everybody leads, in theory.
“That’s why they laugh.
“This is quite a shouty show. I’m quite loud. It gets a bit ranty but is good fun.
“If I was acting I would try and relax and do it from the diaphragm like I was taught when I went to do theatre. That saves your throat. But I find if I’m doing comedy, because of the way I like to use my voice, I cannot go on and be funny sounding like Jonathan Pryce so I’m getting a bit of a sore throat and need to calm down a bit.”
Needless to say, Alan’s enjoying it, and we probably won’t have to wait another decade for another tour.
“It’s nice. You’re up there and might think of some turn of phrase. It’s all yours. I have got back in the frame of mind of trying to jot down ideas, a way of life for a comedian – nowadays it’s in my phone but it used to be on scraps of paper or beer mats.
“I’d stopped doing that but now I’m back and keeping all the good ideas with the intention of doing the second show in a year to two.”